Impasse in Senate on Homeland budget bill as shutdown looms

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama warned Monday that states will feel the pain of a Homeland Security Department shutdown if Congress can't break an impasse by week's end. But on Capitol Hill, no solution was in sight as Senate Democrats again blocked debate on the agency's spending bill in a fight over immigration.

"It will have a direct impact on your economy, and it will have a direct impact on America's national security," Obama told the nation's governors as they visited the White House as part of their annual conference. With tens of thousands of workers in line to be furloughed if the agency shuts down at midnight Friday, and many more forced to work without pay, the president cast the standoff in starkly economic terms.

"These are folks who, if they don't have a paycheck, are not going to be able to spend that money in your states," the president said. "And as governors, you know that we can't afford to play politics with our national security."

The president's words appeared to have little impact on Capitol Hill, where Senate Republicans tried but failed for the fourth time to advance House-passed legislation that funds the Homeland Security Department through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year, while also rolling back Obama's executive actions granting work permits to millions of immigrants in this country illegally.

The vote was 47-46, short of the 60 needed as Senate Democrats lined up to block the legislation from advancing. Three other GOP attempts earlier this month to move the bill yielded similar outcomes. Democrats say they won't agree to the bill unless the GOP-written immigration provisions are removed.

"They want to hold up DHS funding in order to deport 'dreamers' and their parents," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., charged on the Senate floor. "That doesn't make any sense. Their plan is destined to fail." The term "dreamers" applies to young immigrants brought into the country illegally with their parents.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., contended it was Democrats' approach that didn't make sense.

"It's time to allow this Homeland Security funding measure to come to the floor," he said ahead of the vote. "Let's take this funding bill up and get to work."

The stalemate on Capitol Hill appeared unchanged by a federal judge's ruling last week that said Obama's executive actions exceeded his authority and put them on hold just as the first wave of immigrants, tens of thousands brought here illegally as children, were to begin applying for work permits and deportation deferrals.

The Obama administration on Monday asked U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, Texas, to put his ruling on hold and filed a notice of appeal of his ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

The legal developments increased calls from a few Republican senators to pass a "clean" Homeland Security bill without the contested language on immigration.

But House Republicans said they had no interest in revisiting the issue after passing a $39.7 billion bill last month that funds the department through Sept. 30, the end of the budget year, while also undoing Obama's actions on immigration. Instead, they insisted the Senate must act.

"A federal judge has confirmed that what we've done is the right thing," conservative Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio said Monday. "I hope that the U.S. Senate can see the light and do the right thing."

A short-term extension of current funding levels remains possible, but lawmakers have only a few days to come up with even that partial solution before the agency's funding expires.

A Homeland Security shutdown would result in some 30,000 administrative and other workers getting furloughed. Some 200,000 others would fall into essential categories and stay on the job at agencies like the Border Patrol, Secret Service and Transportation Security Administration, though mostly without drawing a paycheck until the situation is resolved.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson argued Monday that the furloughs could harm the U.S. response to terrorist threats and warnings, such as the one late Saturday on Minnesota's Mall of America. Some 80 percent of Federal Emergency Management Agency workers would be furloughed even as that agency contends with two months of devastating snowfall and cold from New England to the Mountain States, Johnson said.

But some Republicans have argued that because the large majority of agency staff would keep working, albeit without getting paid, the harmful impacts of a shutdown were being exaggerated.


Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.